Time for Coursework to Go


A recent article in The Guardian (3/9/2013) reported on the OCR (currently the largest UK examination board) pronouncement that coursework, previously a significant, almost synonymous, part of GCSEs , should come to an end.   Apparently, it is “open to abuse”, not from the pupils, but from the teachers, who try to use it to “optimise students’ grades” (I think that means cheat).

I suppose it seems a shame that something which was conceived as a useful and innovative form of assessment has come to be maligned and misused.  It seems that some teachers, ever-conscious of the need to meet or exceed targets, are using the medium to artificially inflate grades by, in the words of OCR Chief Executive Mark Dawe, “upward-tilted marking” (yes, I think he means cheating).

From my own experience in the classroom, English GCSE coursework presented many, let’s say, challenges.  One difficulty I found was from particularly conscientious pupils who would focus an inordinate amount of time on a piece of work, unsatisfied with anything less than an A*. These same pupils would also, in a bid to gain more marks, undertake huge amounts of research, and sometimes unwittingly plagiarise.  Then there were the parents, who liked to “offer input” (yes, I am talking about cheating again).

Of course, with the removal of coursework, pupils’ grades would be entirely dependent on performance in a final examination.  But then, in a sense, many of life’s rich tapestry of events also rely on something “final” – driving tests, interviews, weddings.  Although not ideal for all, perhaps the exam is the most reliable indicator of a pupils’ ability. Perhaps, instead of artificially inflating pupils’ work though spurious coursework assignments, teachers should be enabling pupils to fulfil their potential with more thorough exam preparation.  After all, no one likes a cheat.

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